Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Kidis, driving home, after drinking heavily, caused a minor accident, exited his vehicle, and fled. Officer Reid attempted to arrest Kidis; he fled with a handcuff attached to his wrist. He jumped barbed-wire fences before entering a wooded area. Eventually, Kidis surrendered, lying face down, his hands stretched out above his head. Kidis asserts that Officer Moran thrust his knee into Kidis, punching and strangling Kidis, yelling that he was going to “teach [him] to . . . run.” Kidis pleaded guilty to resisting and obstructing a police officer, operating a motor vehicle with high blood-alcohol content, and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.Kidis filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against both officers. Rejecting Kidis’s deliberate indifference claim, the court found that Kidis could not prove that either officer was aware of Kidis’s medical needs. The court rejected an excessive force claim against Reid. A jury found that Moran used excessive force but that Kidis did not prove that this force caused his injuries. The jury awarded Kidis $1 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages. The court rejected the officers’ motions for attorneys’ fees but awarded Kidis $143,787.97 in fees. The Sixth Circuit reversed the punitive damages award but otherwise affirmed. Measured against the harm and compensatory damage findings, the punitive damages award runs afoul of due process principles. On remand, the court is to reduce the award to no more than $50,000. View "Kidis v. Reid" on Justia Law

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Cruz pleaded guilty to transporting a minor with intent to engage in sexual activity; receiving child pornography; and transporting child pornography. Cruz, then 37, had maintained a two-year online relationship with the 12-year-old victim before he picked her up in California, traveled across the country, and had sex with her on multiple occasions.The Sixth Circuit affirmed his sentence of 188 months' imprisonment. Imposing a two-level offense enhancement on Count 1 for “unduly influenc[ing] a minor to engage in prohibited sexual conduct,” USSG 2G1.3(b)(2)(B), was not an abuse of discretion. The presumption of undue influence is triggered if there is a difference of 10 years between the defendant and the victim. Here, there was a difference of 25 years. Even if that were not the case, any claimed error is harmless. The application of the enhancement did not alter Cruz’s Sentencing Guidelines range or resulting sentence because Cruz was sentenced to a term of imprisonment at the top of the Guidelines range established by Counts 2 and 3, which did not include the undue-influence enhancement. View "United States v. Cruz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Officer Render saw a new warrant to arrest Baker for receiving stolen property. A judge had issued this warrant on the ground that Baker had received a stolen Nextbook tablet. The subject who pawned the tablet revealed that the tablet was purchased in Madisonville from Baker. Render and Officer Knelson met at the listed address, which appeared to be a hybrid residence and pawnshop, with a sign flashing “open.” Through the windows, Render could see merchandise and a man. The door was locked. The man voluntarily let him in and acknowledged that he was Baker, In response to a request for identification, Baker walked through a door. According to Render, officers should maintain visual contact with arrestees to ensure they are not getting firearms, so he followed Baker. The door led to a kitchen and then another door led to another area, where Baker retrieved his wallet. Render noticed jars of marijuana and a rifle in plain view and asked Baker if he was a convicted felon. Baker confirmed he was. Render left to secure a search warrant. Knelson searched Baker incident to his arrest and found crack cocaine. With a search warrant, officers found more crack cocaine, marijuana, firearms, and methamphetamine.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Baker's motion to suppress the evidence. The officer acted reasonably in monitoring Baker’s movements. The affidavit supporting the warrant contained enough of a connection between Baker and a crime that the officers could reasonably rely on the judge’s probable-cause finding. View "United States v. Baker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Trooper Malone stopped Snoddy for speeding and learned that there were Georgia warrants out for Snoddy’s arrest, including for drug crimes. Malone and another officer arrested Snoddy on the warrants. Malone suspected that Snoddy might have drugs in the car. Immediately after making the arrest, the officers sought consent to search the car. Snoddy refused. Malone stated, “I’m gonna have to get the car towed ... and we have to do an inventory on the car.” Malone repeatedly asked Snoddy for consent, warning Snoddy that if he did not consent, the car would be inventoried. Roughly eight minutes after the arrest, Malone called the tow truck but continued to seek consent. About five minutes after calling the truck, Malone began conducting an inventory. Malone discovered and seized approximately one pound of methamphetamine, two handguns, and a set of scales.Snoddy unsuccessfully moved to suppress the drugs and guns. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Snoddy conceded that the traffic stop was lawful, that his arrest was valid, that it was within Malone’s discretion to impound the car, and that an inventory was required once Malone decided to tow the car. Snoddy did not challenge the scope of the search. The district court did not err in rejecting his argument that the decision to impound and inventory the car was a pretext for a warrantless investigative search. View "United States v. Snoddy" on Justia Law

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Griffith was arrested after a failed robbery attempt and was held at Franklin County Regional Jail. Griffith suffered seizures six days into his detention. He was sent to a local hospital, where he suffered another seizure, and was then airlifted to the University of Kentucky Hospital. He recovered but continues to suffer headaches and other negative symptoms. Griffith sued county defendants and SHP, a private medical company that provides medical services at the jail, and SHP medical staff under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that he received unconstitutionally inadequate medical care. Griffith argued that the defendants were deliberately indifferent because they failed to adequately monitor him for drug withdrawal, allowing his vomiting to progress to the point of dehydration, which led to his kidney failure, which caused his seizures.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that Griffith failed to establish that they acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. There is no evidence that the nurse knew or should have known that Griffith’s vomiting evinced a substantial risk to his health or that he was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. Griffith made no effort to obtain further care other than two sick call slips he filled out in detox; there is no evidence that the nurse would have expected that he had not responded to the treatment provided. Even a failure to follow internal processes does not, alone, indicate deliberate indifference. View "Griffith v. Franklin County" on Justia Law

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Schrank visited the dark web and downloaded “nearly 1,000 images of babies and toddlers being forcibly, violently, and sadistically penetrated.” After a government investigation identified Schrank, he confessed and pled guilty to possession of child pornography 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B). The Sentencing Guidelines called for a sentence of 97-120 months in prison. The district court imposed a non-custodial sentence of 12 months’ home confinement. The government appealed, and the Sixth Circuit vacated the sentence as substantively unreasonable. It both “ignored or minimized the severity of the offense” and “failed to account for general deterrence.” On remand, the district court imposed the same sentence, criticizing the appellate court’s “second-guess[ing]” and saying that she refused to impose a sentence that “does not make sense.” The judge said that Schrank’s misconduct—accessing the dark web over the course of five days and downloading nearly 1,000 images of children being raped—was “much less exaggerated” than “the Sixth Circuit judges realize.” The Sixth Circuit again vacated and remanded for resentencing, ordering that the case be reassigned on remand. A sentence is substantively unreasonable when it is not “proportionate to the seriousness of the circumstances of the offense and offender.” View "United States v. Schrank" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Simmons pleaded guilty to drug charges. Simmons’s judgment became final on September 22, 2016, He had until September 22, 2017, to file a motion to vacate. On August 13, 2018, Simmons moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 and cited Section 2255(f)(2), which provides “[t]he limitation period shall run from . . . the date on which the impediment to making a motion created by governmental action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the movant was prevented from making a motion by such governmental action.” Simmons explained that, after his sentencing, he returned to state custody until December 2016 and served time at Wayne County Jail after that. Simmons claimed that those law libraries did not have federal law materials, which was an impediment to filing a 2255 Motion. He arrived at a federal facility on August 29, 2017. He claimed that the only way to obtain Section 2255 materials there was to request them but “you have to know what you need.”The district court dismissed, finding that Simmons had not sufficiently alleged what specific legal materials he was missing and how the lack of those materials prejudiced his ability to pursue his section 2255 rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Even if a lack of federal materials, combined with a lack of a legal assistance program, constituted an unconstitutional impediment, a prisoner is required to allege a causal connection between the purported constitutional impediment and how the impediment prevented him from filing on time. Simmons did not. View "Simmons v. United States" on Justia Law

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A fight broke out between federal penitentiary inmates. When another inmate attempted to intervene, Flores and another inmate attacked the intervenor, stabbing him at least six times with prison-made “shanks.” The victim was transported to a hospital to treat large lacerations on his back, two smaller cuts to his side, one large cut on his hand, and another on his calf. CT scans showed that the victim’s left shoulder blade was fractured by one of the punctures and revealed deep bruising caused by internal bleeding and air pockets introduced by the puncture wounds.Flores was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(3). The victim refused to cooperate and, at trial, testified for the defense, denying that Flores attacked him and characterizing his injuries as “minor” and his wounds “superficial.” He conceded during cross-examination that prisoners who testify for the government are at risk of being assaulted or killed. The jury convicted Flores. The district court imposed a five-level sentencing enhancement because the victim suffered “serious bodily injury,” and sentenced Flores to 110 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding the enhancement justified. The victim experienced “extreme pain” as a result of Flores’s assault and needed significant medical intervention. View "United States v. Flores" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In 2003, Lee, age 21, was convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct after he pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual activity with a 14-year-old whom he met at a bar that required patrons to be at least 18 years old to enter. He completed his 12-month custodial sentence. From 2004-2018, Lee consistently violated the conditions of his parole, most often by failing to comply with sex offender registration laws and location monitoring. Lee was punished and incarcerated for each of those violations. In 2018, while on parole, Lee was a passenger in his girlfriend’s car. Law enforcement initiated a traffic stop and instructed Lee to exit the vehicle. Lee attempted to flee. Officers tackled him and discovered that he was in possession of an unregistered firearm. Lee pleaded guilty to possession of a stolen firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(j) and was sentenced to 60 months’ imprisonment, reflecting an upward variance of almost two years from the high end of Lee’s 30-37 months guidelines range, purportedly due to Lee’s criminal history.The Sixth Circuit vacated. A court may vary upward from a defendant’s advisory guidelines range based on criminal history and a specific need for deterrence, 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). But here, nothing uniquely problematic about the defendant’s criminal history demonstrates a specific need for deterrence beyond that already captured in the guidelines range. Lee’s criminal history has little bearing on the instant offense; it does not justify the two-year upward variance. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In January 1996, Coleman killed Stevens to keep her from testifying against him at his trial on charges of drug trafficking. A jury convicted him for aggravated murder (with a capital-specification for his killing a witness and a firearm-specification) and of unlawful possession of a firearm. The Ohio trial court sentenced him to death and four-and-a-half years in prison.Coleman unsuccessfully sought relief on direct appeal, then unsuccessfully pursued state post0conviction relief. While Coleman’s first petition for post-conviction relief was pending, he returned to the trial court in 2002, with a motion for relief from judgment, a motion for a new trial, and a successive petition for postconviction relief, all raising claims of actual innocence and that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of “Brady.” The court dismissed the petition without a hearing, The Ohio appellate court affirmed.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his federal habeas petition. The decision of the Ohio court of appeals, that a purported confession by another inmate lacked credibility and was not “Brady” material, neither contravened nor unreasonably applied clearly established Supreme Court precedent. The state court evaluated the totality of the mitigation evidence and reweighed it against the evidence in aggravation to reasonably conclude that Coleman experienced no prejudice from his counsel’s conduct in failing to raise certain mitigation arguments. View "Coleman v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law